How to Successfully Play (and Win) the Conference Call Game

In the financial services industry, conference calls are inevitable. Some can be painful, overwhelming, and feel like a waste of time. We’ve all been there – the meeting that drags on, the one seems to have taken a completely left turn into an unrelated topic, the one where we can’t seem to get a word in. Are meetings like these avoidable? Is it possible to even make them… fun?

YES!

Conference calls don’t have to be painful and, in fact, they shouldn’t be! Virtual meetings should be a way to connect with others from the comfort of your own office. They should be useful and personal, quick and easy. These 8 tips will not only make conference call meetings more productive and efficient, they will make them more enjoyable. But how? Think of them like a basketball game.

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Warm yourself up.

  • Have you taken all the necessary steps to prepare yourself for this meeting? Specifically, have you given enough attention to your technology? A tech mishap can be embarrassing and a waste of time. Think through all things related to your tech well before the call begins. First, consider what makes the most sense for this call. Should it be audio only? Would video be better? Should it offer screen-sharing capabilities? Decide what will make the call most efficient and share information most effectively. Once you’ve chosen a medium, make sure you are familiar with it. Do a test run ahead of time so you know there is no cause for concern and be especially sure to check that your voice comes through clearly. To maximize audio efficiency, choose a quiet space with no background noise and be sure to mute yourself from the call when you are not speaking. Bad audio and tech blunders can be incredibly distracting on a call.

Warm up with your team.

  • The key to maximizing efficiency is for everyone to be on the same page going into the meeting. Once you’ve ensured that the technical side of your call is ready to go, get yourself and others in the right head space for this call. Set expectations and any necessary guidelines to keep the call on track. What is the purpose of the call? What are the objectives? What’s our agenda? All participants should know these key points heading into the call to ensure everyone is on the same page. Additionally, participate in small talk while waiting for others to join. This builds connection and will establish a more personal and lighter tone for the call. Ask how things are going, how their weekend was, what the weather’s like if they live in a different area. Be open to one another as people first and foremost.

Assign a captain and a timekeeper.

  • Assign any roles that may be necessary ahead of time, but especially know who will facilitate and who will keep things on track for the sake of time. Everyone will look to these people as the ones who will make the conference call run as smoothly and efficiently as possible. You may also want to have a designated note-taker. Even if everyone is taking their individual notes, having one comprehensive record of the meeting will be a good reference. Know who will fill any designated roles before the meeting begins so that everyone is prepared to play their part to the best of their ability.

Don’t have too many players on the court.

  • Limit the conference call to key people to avoid having too many players on the court. An excessive amount of people can create unnecessary confusion. This means potentially hearing too many contrasting opinions and not being able to easily reach a viable resolution. Practically speaking, it can also be difficult to remember too many names and voices if you aren’t on a video call, which makes it harder to establish personal relationships. Trust that your key players will represent your company well and make the best decisions.

Keep your head in the game.

  • The more focused you are on the call, the faster and more efficient it will be. Know who the other participants are. Listen closely when they speak. Ask direct questions and use names. Maintain a decision-making and action-oriented mindset throughout the call. Don’t get bogged down in new topics or lengthy conversations. Anything that is tangential to the subject at hand can have its own call at another time with only those necessary players. It can be easy to get carried away on the theoretical of a given situation but being mindful about what decisions need to be made and what concrete steps can be taken will keep things easy on the group.

Be ready to pass and receive the ball.

  • It’s easy for some people to fade into the background and not say much, if anything, on conference calls. For others, it’s easy to take the ball and turn it into a solo show. Make sure everyone on the call has an equal opportunity to share their thoughts. This means don’t interrupt others when they are speaking. Do ask quiet participants for their opinion. And when asking questions, be sure to try and ask open-ended ones rather than yes or no questions. This may lead to new ideas and discoveries the group wouldn’t have otherwise found! And, because your head is in the game and you are fully engaged in the meeting, if someone asks for your input you won’t feel put on the spot. You’ll be ready to respond and keep the conversation flowing.

Try a new play.

  • Try to incorporate some more fun and engaging elements into your conference calls. Most times you won’t have time for any sort of group ice breaker at the top, but if you do have time, try one out. Break the monotony every once in a while, with time checks or stops for questions. Sometimes, making intentional space for a Q&A will encourage people to ask questions they might have otherwise let pass. And try to end early! An early end to a conference call will make everyone happy and automatically set a positive tone for the next call. If you can’t end early, end on time. When the clock runs out that’s it, so be sure you’ve had time to properly address every item on the agenda.

If one person scores, everyone scores.

  • Maintain a team mindset. If someone comes up with a great idea, it benefits the whole group and keeps things moving forward efficiently. Congratulate that person on a job well done. Similarly, if someone has forgotten something during or after the meeting, don’t be afraid to speak out or follow up. You can reach out to ensure that others have taken their action steps – they might have forgotten some smaller details that you remembered! Review your notes and complete your tasks immediately. This is extremely beneficial to you and your whole team.

Putting these principles into action will result in more streamlined and energetic conference call meetings. Pretty soon you’ll be everyone’s favorite person to connect with. Start with one tip and continue adding more in with each call. Remember – practice makes perfect.

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